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Like this summer’s Superman Returns, Hollywoodland, about the mysterious death of Superman actor George Reeves, doesn’t fully live up to the legend.

Hollywood Confidential

He's the kind of down-on-his-luck gumshoe who gyps the honor-system-based newspaper stand
He’s the kind of down-on-his-luck gumshoe who gyps the honor-system-based newspaper stand

On the night of June 16, 1959, George Reeves, the actor whose rise to fame was meteoric thanks to the TV series The Adventures of Superman, was found dead.

In true Hollywood fashion, the circumstances surrounding his death are still sketchy.

Was it a suicide, which has been the general consensus? Or was it more sinister? Was it a murder committed by his jealous mistress? Maybe his bitter fiancé? Or perhaps it was a powerful studio executive, who also happened to be the husband of Reeves’ mistress, who had him 86’d?

Well, in an attempt to shed some light on the various scenarios comes Hollywoodland, a movie that’s slower than the molasses in January, far less powerful than it should’ve been, and unable to leap to a solid conclusion.

Presented as a film noir-ish mystery (in living color), Hollywoodland tells its tale through the investigative efforts of Louis Simo (Adrien Brody, The Jacket). Louis is one bit short of being a two-bit dick. He’s the kind of down-on-his-luck gumshoe who gyps the honor-system-based newspaper stand. At least he still tries to be a halfway decent father figure to his son, but his wife has already left Louis in the dust.

The Mirror News

Upon hearing the news of Superman’s death, every kid on the block is upset and borderline despondent. That includes Louis’ son, Evan (Dreams of an Angel).

Truth be told, though, the affection wasn’t entirely mutual. Reeves grudgingly took the role just to collect a paycheck. Originally, it was expected the show would come and go, virtually unseen by the public.

Unfortunately, from Reeves’ point of view, the show took off and simultaneously stunted his career growth. Credit where credit is due, Reeves did appear in some classics, namely Gone with the Wind and Knute Rockne All American. But leading man status constantly escaped him until Superman came along.

After Superman, Reeves’ widespread fame was at least a part of the reason his role in From Here to Eternity landed on the cutting room floor.

And, even as he tried to be a good role model to children, their inability to separate fictional TV from reality forced Reeves to ease away from personal appearances. In one of Hollywoodland’s best scenes, the good-natured Reeves stares down the barrel of a real loaded gun held by a 10-year-old who wants to see the bullets bounce off Reeves’ chest.

In Hollywoodland, Ben Affleck (Good Will Hunting) tackles the role of George Reeves and his performance is split down the middle between well done and distracting. As the filmmakers tell it, Affleck’s “bankability,” such as it is, helped get Hollywoodland made, but another actor with less baggage would have been a better choice. Kyle MacLachlan, who at one point tested for the role, comes to mind.

A Dark and Stormy Night

Hollywoodland isn’t a total bust, but there’s simply more to fault than to praise. The biggest problem is with Paul Bernbaum’s rambling screenplay. Too much time is spent trying to make Louis a sympathetic character; there are subplots involving his wife and son, Louis’ new girlfriend and her subsequent lover, and a murky thread about Louis being ostracized from the detective community. But this is supposed to be a movie about George Reeves and all those irrelevant subplots drain the movie of the tension it sorely needs.

Plus, George Reeves himself is not an entirely sympathetic character. He’s a playboy struggling to keep his acting career afloat; as this movie would have it, he could lay claim to being a more successful pickup artist than actor.

Even as he’s embarrassed to don the Superman outfit, Reeves is uninhibited enough to make sexual jokes to Lois Lane while in costume. Regardless of the factual basis of the material, it simply isn’t much fun seeing Superman like that.

At the same time, Hollywoodland is a collection of clichés that plays everything too straight to at least make the clichés fun. Most grating is the score by Marcelo Zarvos (The Door in the Floor), which repeatedly resorts to the clichéd plink, plink, plink on the piano keyboard during mysterious moments.

Mad About the Boy

Nonetheless, Affleck does deserve some degree of recognition for his stab at portraying Reeves. He primarily uses his voice and hairdo to convey Reeves’ essence, but he’s still a hard sell when he puts on the Superman outfit. It’s also painful to see Affleck digitally integrated into scenes from From Here to Eternity and in a mock Superman opening titles sequence.

Lending more credibility to the project are Diane Lane (Unfaithful) and Bob Hoskins (Mrs. Henderson Presents). Both deftly handle their material as two key characters, Toni and Eddie Mannix. Toni is Reeves’ wealthy mistress who showers him in expensive gifts (including jewelry and a house) and Eddie’s her powerful studio exec husband.

While those performances help keep eyes on the screen, the movie stumbles along in search of a conclusion. No sooner does the movie point a finger at what appears to be its favored explanation of the events on the night of June 16, 1959, when it presses rewind and tries out another scenario.

Granted, the recreations are fairly stylish and framed by Louis standing outside Reeves’ house as he imagines the events that transpired. But ultimately it seems as though the movie’s quasi-hidden agenda is to send the message that nobody in Hollywood is likable or to be trusted. Thanks, but Mel Gibson and Tom Cruise are around to make that point free of charge.